Making sense of social-media marketing

It seems like a new social marketing company gets funded every week, so I spoke with the CEO of one

Entrepreneur interview by Ronny Kerr
March 3, 2011
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Engage121. Extole. Lithium Technologies. Mass Relevance. ObjectiveMarketer. Radian6. Shoutlet. Spredfast. Sprout Social. Syncapse. TwitHawk. Vitrue.
Sometimes it seems that for every million users Facebook or Twitter added in 2010, a new company emerged to help other businesses and brands harness the power of social. Indeed, alongside location-based apps and daily deals sites, social marketing and social media management sometimes seem like the hottest spaces to ever hit Silicon Valley. Whenever it gets this crowded, though, it can be tough making sense of the market.
Earlier this week, I got the opportunity to speak with the head of one of these companies, Michael Scissons, President and CEO of Syncapse. His company, which just last week closed a $20 million round of funding, serves 165 organizations worldwide, including Anheuser Busch and RIM, so I figured he’d have a lot of good things to say about the market.

My biggest question was how do you separate one social marketing company from the rest?

As it turns out, it’s all about levels. The needs of a large customer are very different from the needs of a smaller customer, which are, in turn, very different from the needs of agencies.

If you visit the main Syncapse website, you’ll immediately read, in clearly printed letters, “The Global Leader in enterprise social media management.” (Underlined emphasis is my own.) Mass Relevance is another that targets the enterprise. Alternatively, Sprout Social focuses specifically on small businesses and personal branding.

If that’s case now, in the next year or two, might we see social marketing organizations serving companies of all sizes and colors?

“No,” replied Scissons bluntly. “I don’t think so. If you’re BlackBerry, you have very different demands than if you’re the marketing manager for a mall down the road. You’re going to be expecting different things, you’ll have different feature requests and use cases will just be dramatically different.”

Those all-inclusive organizations already exist, however.

Vitrue, for example, describes itself as a “social media management company that provides marketers of all sizes, from global brands to local businesses, as well as agencies large and small.” Engage121, which has been around since 1997, also counts every business, from the youngest startup to the largest corporation, as a potential client.

Basically, it appears that business usage of social media will be as cookie cutter as personal usage of social media; that is, not at all. So, I wondered, what should we expect from social marketing companies in 2011?

“If last year was the time for experimentation and learning,” conjectured Scissons, “then this year customers will have a better idea of what they need.”

No longer should we see any major company scrambling to figure out how to monitor its social media presence, though we still will, here and there. In spite of that, social media is a fluid, organic experience, and missteps are not set in stone. They might always be cached in a Google image search but, more importantly, the business-customer relationship is more dynamic than ever before.

As Scissons puts it, the Internet has evolved from a network of websites that provide static data to a network of platforms and supplemental APIs, social graphs, etc. Increasingly, businesses will need further assistance in learning how best to take advantage of these multifarious tools.

Feel free to continue the social marketing conversation in the comments. Or, better yet, catch up with Scissons or myself at SXSW in Austin, Texas next week. We’ll both be there. While I’m exploring and networking, Scissons will be hosting a party with Syncapse and participating in a panel discussing the value of a Facebook fan.

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